“There he goes, old Father Time. Happy Christmas, Santa!”
I very much enjoyed the banter of the two motorcyclists, who were sitting one table along from us at this place’s outdoor terrace.
The Waldorf and Statler-esque comment was made as another biker cruised past on what looked like a Triumph, the breeze catching his long grey beard.
Ignorance is bliss, when you’re being slagged off from afar.
This comedy duo were obviously regulars. They expressed surprise that The Grantully Hotel by Ballintaggart’s soup-du-jour was something “normal”, like leek and potato, rather than the usual highfalutin flavour. They ordered it.
It’s taken me a while to get along to this hotel and restaurant, which opened at the end of 2018.
It’s a second business for Chris and Rachel Rowley, who own another restaurant with rooms, five-year-old Ballintaggart Farm, just a few minutes along the road. Right next door to Iain Burnett, The Highland Chocolatier, their younger venue, which is headed up by Chris's brother, Andrew, is upmarket, but the vibe is informal. They obviously attract an equal mix of tourists and locals, who can also eat in The Tully Bar, or use their little shop, where I splurged on homemade treasures including a bottled Naked and Famous cocktail, Sunshine Granola and Raspberry and Thyme jam.
You can eat inside, though we chose to sit out on the patio, where there are picnic tables or some sheltered seating under an awning (us vitamin-D-intolerant Goths chose to sit there). Outside, the chiminea was pumping out heat and the glorious scent of wood smoke.
I felt like a bee - getting sleepy, while we waited patiently to be fed.
There’s a good balance of dishes here, and our starters were both spectacular. The salt and pepper squid (£8) had a Wotsit-coloured craggy batter, and a hot and sour dipping sauce that was hugely lime-y, with a chilli punch, lemongrass, ginger and fish sauce in the mix. It was an electric jolt of flavour that could raise the dead. While this was a straight-to-the-jugular and assertive sort of dish, my cured halibut (£11) was breezy and whisper light. It was the Brahms to the squid’s Motley Crue. (I know which dish the bikers would prefer).
There were transparent petals of Gigha halibut, cured in negroni, apparently, though it must be a more subtle interpretation of that cough medicine-ish cocktail. There was also Sugar Puff-esque toasted barley, thin slices of pickled red grape, pea shoots, and the chrysalides that were crumbed and sweet Inverlussa mussels.
When you’re trying a lot of different restaurants, you get used to seeing the same dishes on rotation. However, their Peterhead monkfish (£23) main was a surprise. It consisted of a huge and buttery bolster of fish, a courgette puree, sweet halved green and red tomatoes, and a basil oil.
Such simple ingredients, yet everything primped to glorious sunshiney perfection.
We carbed up with a helping of skinny fries (£3), and some of their cauliflower, garden kale, maple and almonds (£4), because a spoonful of sugar makes the fibre go down.
I’d gone for the Perthshire lamb rack (£24), which was served on a black plate, looking all dramatic with two neat pink cutlets, their bones crossed over like swords on a coat of arms. They came with caramelised struts of carrot and a dollop of a feral and earthy-tasting “foraged pesto”.
Ordering two sides meant that we almost tapped out at pudding, but when the menu is this good, it’s hard to deny the final act. It’d be like a curtain closing at the second interval.
The dark chocolate tart (£7) was worth treating my body like a Tardis. It was rich and smooth-centred, topped with a handful of light honeycomb (the cinder toffee sort) and a blob of creme fraiche to take the tooth-shiveringly sugary edge off. Our buttermilk panna cotta (£7) was as fresh and milky as it should be, surrounded by slices of strawberry and topped by crumbled pistachio, with a little jug of red jus, infused with a strawberry’s soul, on the side.
I wished we were staying over, so we could be carried upstairs for a lie down.
Instead, we were straight on the road again, feeling happily sated, coddled by this venue’s lovely staff and ready to follow in the tyre tracks of old Father Time.
(01887 447 000, www.ballintaggart.com)
Places to try Nearby
Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier, Grantully (01887 840 775, www.highlandchocolatier.com)
Experience one of this chocolatier’s velvet truffles, dipped fruit slices or spiced pralines, which you can take away from his shop, where there are all sorts of goodies under the counter. They also have a chocolate lounge, which offers casual lunches and mint hot chocolate.
This new wine shop, bar and charcuterie purveyor is 20 minutes along the road, in Dunkeld, which is undergoing a bit of a food renaissance, with loads of good new (and older) shops and restaurants.
The Inn on the Tay, Grandtully (01887 840 760, www.theinnonthetay.co.uk)
For crowd-pleasing comfort food, like sticky chicken wings, charcuterie plates, fish and chips, pie, or burgers, head to this place, which has a view of the river from its window. There’s also a children’s menu and Sunday lunch.